Desperate Characters

Joe

I met Joe in college
I was a janitor
Working my way through school
He was on a basketball scholarship
Mostly sitting on the bench


I remember the day I met him
He walked up to me
Introduced himself
He was from Boulder City, Nevada
But had lived in Wyoming a few years ago
He had heard my name
Realized our brothers were good friends
His brother now in Vietnam
Was fighting a war
My brother chasing ships on the ocean
Somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea


We became friends
Learned from each other
I taught him about school
He taught me about life
We experienced them both together
I was school smart
He was street smart
Together we were going to
Conquer the world


He then went his way
And I went mine
He went back to Nevada
I stayed in Wyoming


I remember when he called me relieved
That his brother had made it home safely
From Vietnam
A second call a few months later
Was the news his brother was killed in a car accident
Somewhere in California


Joe was a great gambler
A great athlete
And great person
Hidden behind a small attitude


I let the years slip by
Always knowing I would meet him again
Discuss the past
The many things we did together
Chase girls
Drink Beer
Play cards
Shoot baskets
Share stories


I called him one day
But found out he was not home
He was not out in the garage
Working on his vehicle
Or down at the store
Buying a loaf of bread

He was not home
Gone forever


He had passed this life
I was stunned
Joe is gone forever
I just hung up the phone
I did not want to know
What happened to him
It did not matter
He was just gone forever

I knew we would meet again
But I was wrong
I wasted too many years
Waiting for the phone to ring
Until I called him
Now the phone sits in silence
Unable to ring anymore
A friend lost
I had lost the opportunity
To say good bye


Good bye Joe
I miss you
As our silent conversations

Fill the air

Haggard

for:   Merle Haggard


He lived and died
In California
Oildale a small town
Near Bakersfield
The music from Bakersfield
Would be his driving force


But it was more than that
he wore his heart on his sleeve

Growing up in troubled times
He was his worst adversary at times
Trying to solve the problem of loneliness
By searching in the wrong directions


But he always held a guitar in his hands
A Johnny Cash concert at San Quentin
Gave him hope and desire
To find a way out

His loneliness never far behind him
As he took his heart from his sleeve
And put it into a song


Many songs
That reflected his journey
"Mama Tried"
"Sing Me Back Home"
"Irma Jackson"
"Ramblin' Fever"
Endless songs all reflecting his life

A true artist
More than a singer
More than a songwriter
A true legend
Telling his stories
In all the songs
He has left behind
"They're taking you away
Leaving me lonely
Silver Wings
Slowly fading out of sight."*
 

*from "Silver Wings" by Merle Haggard

Norman

It is hard to place you
Into perspective
Leaving an impression
Long after seventh grade
I often wonder
What were you doing
Teaching seventh grade


A graduate of Brown
From the Ivy League
Etymology Etymology

That is what you taught us
You spoke many languages
Always searching for the origin
Of words


But you left us
Before we finished seventh grade
Hitchhiking down the highway
Like so many times
You caught a ride
 

But you lost your life
Waiting for a ride
On that lonely highway
It was raining and cold


We learned so much from you
About life and death
And the highways we all
Have to travel
In our journey through life

A Cup of Coffee

for: Dr. Howe


He was a Philosopher

A teacher

A professor 

A friend 

A reader of books

Shelves piled high

With knowledge that filtered

Through his mind


His walls full of degrees

Certificates

Commendations

And an empty picture frame

I always wondered 

What was lost inside the empty space


He gave me Steppenwolf

Turned me on to Hesse

My life would never be the same

Searching for so much

Through so many pages


He always said

the only difference

between him and I

Was that he read more books

and though I'll never catch up to him

He put me on a path

to keep reading

and chasing my dreams

And I realize today

A cup of coffee

Will never be the same

Without him

The Forecast Calls for Rain

For: Sam & Linda


There is a river

That runs down through Colorado

Its beauty is in its life

And the road it has traveled

But you can’t drink the water

The trout fishing is not good

All that is left is a floating raft or two

And empty beer cans floating downstream

Relics of mankind gone mad


Don’t talk about forever

Or last Saturday night’s dream

I am into reality

In a world full of changes

Sam talks about the “Roach People”

And Linda the “Time Pirates”

All that is left is time

And it is gone

And the reflection of a man

In the mirror

That we can’t recognize

Anymore


The sky is blue and hazy

You cannot breathe the air

It hangs in the distance

Keeping the shadows away

That conceal themselves from the sun

The radio plays the old songs

But we don’t sing along

Anymore

Unable to remember the words

In a mind gone mad


Don’t talk about forever

Or last Saturday night’s dream

I am into reality

In a world full of changes

Sam talks about the “Roach People”

And Linda the “Time Pirates”

All that is left is time

And it is gone

And the reflection of a man

In the mirror

The Bridge

  

for: John


We crossed the bridge 

So many times

John and I

On our way to school

An old rickety 

Wooden walking bridge

It began in grade school

Through junior high

And high school


It was part of our life

Time moved on

We drifted apart

Two young boys

Growing up

In the same neighborhood

One becomes a teacher

The other a lawyer

But they both

Had their demons

Haunting them

His was an empty glass

Mine a glass overflowing


John would leave his law book behind

As he ended his life

On the bridge

which was so much

A part of our life

And now was part

Of death


As John crossed the bridge

One last time

I crossed the bridge today

Thought about John

His empty glass 

While my glass is still Overflowing

Desperate characters

Marty

Marty worked for his father

At a service station

Changed oil

Pumped gas

School was always something

Extra for Marty

Missed often unexcused


Thinking took little

Of his time

So did girls

Too busy

Emptying beer cans in his face

And driving like a madman

Gave me a ride home once

About midnight

90 miles an hour in town

Across railroad tracks

I thought he was crazy

I knew then


One day there was a wreck

Marty walked away

His friend didn’t

Spent months trying to survive

Learning how to think

And healed at 17

He walked with a cane


Somewhere in Kansas

Another wreck

This time Marty alone

Never walked away

The hospital listed him as DOA

The end could come

No other way for him

Edward English

He was the last of the freight train riders

Rode the rails across the land

His home was an unmarked boxcar

Everchanging

Going one direction

It was the only life he knew


His only mode of transportation

Consisting of his feet

Walking toward the railroad tracks

Never rode in an automobile

It was easier following the path of the rails

Wrote poetry with true grit

Something you could sink your teeth into

Chew for a while

Digest slow and easy


Quick on his feet for seventy

Catch a boxcar on the move

Read his poetry in Laramie, Wyoming once

For an English class starved of literary giants

Talked about arrests from rail inspectors

Eating black bread

And drinking wine

Not the last supper

Just survival on the rails

Brautigan

The beginning of spring

No flowers yet, only the smell of rain

And the news hit my mind like lightening

Dead at 49


And I feel a little cheated

By your leaving too soon

So much like Hemingway

Leaving by your own hand

And your words flow through my mind

Like magic


“Death is a beautiful car parked only

To be stolen on a street lined with trees

Whose branches are like the intestines

Of an emerald


You hotwire death, get in, and drive away

Like a flag made from a thousand burning

Funeral parlors


You have stolen death because you’re bored

There is nothing good at the movies

In San Francisco

You joyride around a while listening

To the radio, and then abandon death, walk

Away, and leave death for the police to find.”


Out of touch, you lost yourself

In a metal world of mazes

And somewhere in San Francisco

You lost your mind between Montana and Japan

A friend saw it on the street as it waved good-bye

With an empty drink in its hand



“Death Is a Beautiful Car Parked Only,” is from The Pill Versus

the Springhill Mine Disaster, 1968, Richard Brautigan

Linda

  

She was a loner

Lived by herself

Drove a 1989 Chevy truck

Her body showed scars

From the past


She was trapped in a relationship

Gone wrong

She saw no way out

And bought a can of gas


On a cool Wyoming’s winter's night

She lit a match

And set herself on fire

It was a botched attempt 

To end her life


Months in a hospital burn center

In an induced coma

She lived

One day opening her eyes

Hoping to see heaven


She saw her body connected

To machines

Keeping her alive

Today she talks calmly about it

Saying she must be careful


What she wears to cover the scars

I think about the scars in her mind

As we talk about the world tomorrow

Something she thought she

Would never see

For: KC (Revisited)

  

Her days are filled with nights

That reflect stars

That do not shine


She sang cocaine blues

And cried

Wondering 

What’s really going on


Her head spun in circles

And mind became 

Trapped in cobwebs


She sang Summertime Blues

And cried

Realizing that the summer is

Coming to an end


She worshipped the earth

She walked upon

The mountains

Desert

Rain

Snow


She was never afraid 

To express herself

Expanding sexual boundaries

Without limits


She taught us about life

By not throwing stones

When the grapevine tried

To destroy her


She turned away from man

Stood alone

And thought


She never realized

How alone could be

But picked up

The pieces of her life

And went home

To find herself

Shackles and Chains

  

Jessica’s Poem


Today I spoke

At Jessica’s sentencing

She looked frail

And fragile

In shackles and chains

"Unsentenced" was the word

On her shirt

I spoke of who she was

Positive things on her ability

To live in a society

That forgot her


She chose too many wrong turns

Friends who used her

Threw her away

She faces 3 ½ years to think

Things over

Before she can leave

The shackles and chains

Behind her